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"BellingQueerstory" with the Good Time Girls

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Julian Eltinge in The Fascinating Widow — Photo by White Studio New York Public Library  

While Bellingham's slogan is "City of Subdued Excitement," the Washington town has a lively history that Kolby LaBree has embraced wholeheartedly. Walking down the streets of downtown, she wore an entire outfit inspired by the vaudeville male impersonators Hetty Urma and Vesta Tilley, all while telling the stories of Bellingham's rich Queer history.

LaBree is the owner of Good Time Girls, a local group that hosts a slew of historical walking tours, ranging from a focus on prostitution ("sin and gin") to crime ("gore and lore"). The "BellingQueerstory" tour is the realization of her five years' worth of research into the Queer community.

"The business that I'm involved with has always been... researching and talking about marginalized groups and... specialty populations," LaBree said in an interview with the SGN prior to the tour.

"As someone coming out of a history researcher background, I love the challenge of 'difficult populations.' I've researched sex workers. I've spent a lot of time [researching] vagrant populations, people that move around a lot... and I think [the] LGBTQ population falls into that similar category of not always... [having an] easy-to-follow paper trail in terms of archival records."

Courtesy photos  

The stories LaBree tells are mainly from newspapers, oral histories, and interviews, starting in the late 1800s and ending in the near present. They consist of a mix of cross-dressing, secret or not-so-secret Queer spots, the remains of what used to be Bellingham's gayborhood, and the bars and saloons that led to the creation of Rumors Cabaret.

"The thing that I love about a walking tour is that it brings home the story when you're in a physical location," LaBree said. "Someplace that maybe you walk by all the time and never realized [its history] ... I feel like this is history that people don't generally hear about. You might at a university class or something, but not most of the general public."

Kolby Labree — Photo by Cameron Martinez, Courtesy image of Julien Eltinge  

The tour was supposed to be accompanied by Queer Bellingham icon Matt Endrizzi — better known as Betty Desire — dressed as female impersonator Julian Eltinge, but unfortunately on the day, he was sick.

"[Endrizzi and I] got the idea to incorporate historical recreation of a female impersonator, as they were called back in the early 1900s," LaBree said. "[They were] precursors of today's drag performers, doing different gender impersonations. So, we had a lot of that going on here in our vaudeville theaters. ...Betty does an impersonation of Julian Eltinge, who was sort of the RuPaul of the day."

The first "BellingQueerstory" tour was held in 2019 to acclaim, but after the events of the pandemic, it was shelved until 2023. LaBree said it was a hit during Pride this year and the months leading up to it, but the audience has since dwindled, with the final tour on September 17 having around 10 participants.

"[The tour] was kind of experimental, to see what the demand is," she said. "I think this [tour] would be a good... happy-hour kind of a thing, where we could present some of the history. But also Betty can do a performance... We'll probably try to schedule some events like that, where it's kind of a fun but also educational time."

While the tour may be over for the year, people can still book a private version of "BellingQueerstory" for a minimum of four people.

The Good Time Girls also have a variety of other tours to choose from year-round. For more information, visit https://www.bellinghistory.com or follow its Instagram @goodtimegirlstour and Good Time Girls - Bellinghistory Tours on Facebook.